As opposed to 100 years ago, the Christian faith today is no longer simply white, rich, and western, but is instead more accurately described as brown, poor, and southern. Coupled with the phenomena of globalization, this demographic swing has profound implications for the globalizing Church (not “globalized Church”: there are still thousands of unreached peoples!). With such an intertwined world and a diverse Church, different Christian theologies are bound to clash with each another. Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity is a collection essays written in honor of the late missiologist Paul Hiebert meant to show how both the nature and task of theology is being redefined by the phenomenon of globalization.
Part 1 of the book examines the global status of theology today. Tiénou, Whiteman, and Walls make the case that Western theology arrogantly self-perceives itself to be the universal standard of theology for the rest of the world. Meaningful dialogue, the necessary ingredient for learning from each other, will not be possible until the West learns that its own theology is itself contextual and based largely on Greek and Enlightenment categories. The West needs to approach non-Western theologies not from a position of power, but as unique and important equals to be learned from.
Part 2 proposes a methodology for globalizing theology. The chief tension is how theology can be both contextual and yet simultaneously transcend the local expression. Each author explores this tension between the particular and the universal in different ways. Vanhoozer proposes that theology must adhere to the canonical principle (in accordance with Scripture), and the catholic principle (the diversity of the worldwide church enriches and enlarges theology). Strauss looks at the universal and contextual nature of the creeds; the creeds are themselves products of historical situations and need to be interpreted as such. Priest contrasts philosophy and anthropology as conversation partners with theology, and argues that “experience-near” theologizing (using indigenous thought forms and language) best describes how missional theology impacts the human condition in context. Perhaps Van Engen says it best: “The glocal church's task of critical theologizing involves a dialectical tension: The gospel can be known only within cultural frameworks, yet the gospel is always distinct from - sometimes affirming of and often prophetically critical of - all human cultures” (178).
Part 3 examines the multifaceted implications globalizing theology has on the church. Whether it’s economic theory, idolatrous nationalism, or even a missionary reporting to her sending church, the repercussions of the diversity of Christian theology are unmistakable in today’s world. The church must be prepared to deal with these conflicts in a way that edifies and honors fellow Christians in other cultures, as well has challenges blind spots in one’s own culture.
Why is the message of Globalizing Theology essential for Westerners who translate the gospel among Muslims? Islam is a global and culturally diverse faith (despite the fact that the Qur’an cannot be translated!), and has a robust theological system which has often been over-simplified as a works-based idolatry. Although it is true that Islam is perhaps the most resistant worldview to the gospel that the church has ever seen, Muslims today are indeed beginning to trickle into the kingdom. As this trickle becomes a river, the body of Christ will be enriched and enlarged by the unique contributions of Muslim background theologians (e.g. Lamin Sanneh). Perhaps we are not too far away from seeing how theologically baptized Islamic concepts can provide deeper Biblical understandings of the tri-unity of God (tawheed), the community of believers (ummah), and peace (salaam). Islam as a theological culture is not just something to be replaced; it is impossible to minister independent from cultural context. Ministry among Muslims will include utilizing the thought forms and expressions of Islam in ways Globalizing Theology exemplifies in other contexts. And in the end, outsiders (like me) may only be temporary catalysts leading to deep, indigenously-led movements to Christ. It will be the theologically unique but Biblically grounded Muslim background church that finally reaches the Muslim world.